CTU Women 'Quietly Push Forth a Vision.' (Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois) (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Mary Huffman of St. Louis matriculated at Catholic Theological Union at Chicago (CTU) in 1991. She is in her third year of a four-year program that will award her a master's degree in divinity. She will complete 36 quarter hours common to all master of divinity candidates and 72 quarter hours in one track of a two-track advanced program tailored to the needs of lay and religious women and men who will not be ordained.

The second advanced track generally adds another year, requiring 105 quarter hours beyond the basic 36 and leading to ordination. This track is closed to Mary and the 71 other lay women enrolled in CTU, but she doesn't feel limited. Rather, the women of CTU view the clerical candidates as the ones trapped in an ecclesiastical cul-de-sac.

"I don't have to commit myself to the church," Huffman said. I can commit to ministry. I have already experienced church in many other ways than Rome envisions.

Sure, I'm frustrated with the church. But CTU has taught me the church is bigger than that and that we're called to make things better. So we are quietly pushing forth this vision. We would be living without hope if we just took things the way they are."

The women of CTU are beyond anger and politics. Like any minority - which they are practically, if not numerically - they are more sensitive. They have a deeper understanding of the dominant male church, wwch barely bothers to understand them. Their presence at CTU has made the theologate not only a community of inquiry but a community of faith. They speak a different language and have a different vision.

Typically, Mary was aware that her native see at St. Louis was open, but she evidenced no interest in who would succeed Archbishop John May. "Does it matter?" one of the other students asked rhetorically. "I care who gets St. Louis, but it isn't going to affect what I'm going to do."

Huffman is enrolled in a collaborative program with the nearby School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. It will permit her to complete both degrees one year sooner than if she had pursued them consecutively. "I wanted to bring both disciplines together," she said. I'd like to do parish work with other MSWSs in other parishes. I'd like to apply the principles of organizing to revitalize neighborhoods, to make the church more viable.

"I don't know if I can reform the church from within, but the social work degree will give me other options."

It isn't easy. At $215 a credit hour, the 72 hours following the foundational courses cost more than $15,000, exclusive of the usual nuisance fees, books and room and board. For Huffman, there is the substantial added cost of the MSW (master of social work) degree.

She survives on student loans, a Dorothy Day Scholarship and a grant from Mary's Pence, a program started by Chicago's Call to Action that funds projects for women. She has also worked at CTU in research, library work and old-fashioned maintenance. She also has a job in retail sales in downtown Chicago.

The economics of earning a degree at a theologate that educates 159 seminarians from the 31 participating religious communities together with 15 from other communities invites comparisons. In addition, there are 45 women religiours*, 30 diocesan priests and 44 laymen. Its total enrollment of 356 makes it the W" theologate in the country.

(CTU accepts ordrained diocesan priests only; they don't want hovering bishops. Further, technically, CTU is a theologate, not a seminary. Strictly speaking, a theologate is a school of theology in which candidates for the religious priesthood study; a seminary - the word means "seed bed" - educates candidates for the diocesan priesthood.)

Religious are supported by their magregations. Laymen and women receive few subsidies. It is a rare parish or diocese that educates its future lay leaders.

The women of CTU were concerned about the number of Catholic women enrolled in seminaries and divinity schools of other Christian faiths. …